Sophia Shen, composer and pipa player, has released her debut EP “The Unveiling”. Embodying its creator’s multifaceted personality, “The Unveiling” takes the listener on an exploration of original pipa music fused with traditional and experimental compositions.
A pear-shaped, four-string plucked instrument dating back to the Han Dynasty around 2nd century CE, the pipa is a popular Chinese instrument whose two thousand plus year history is examined and suffused with the composer’s own shifting experience of this musical tradition. A combination of objective historical time in tandem with duration of subjective experience reflects the nonconceptual and ineffable nature of Sophia’s sound. “The Unveiling” features a wide range of genre-bending repertoire, from acoustic compositions inspired by ancient Chinese poetry and written in cipher notation to improvisations with algorithmically-generated synesthesia-evoking electronics.
1. Moments 嘀嗒
solo pipa live looping
Recorded with a contact mic, Moments amplifies the sonic microcosm within the wooden body of the pipa, allowing one to listen to the instrument from within. The percussive sounds on the bridge, quiet plucking of the strings above the frets and bowing are interwoven with live looping as they evoke time passing.
2. After the Rain Freshens the Empty Hills 空山新雨
pipa duet ft. Shenshen Zhang
After the rain freshens the empty hills,
The autumnal dusk deepens the chills.
Through pines the bright moon glows,
Upon the stones the clear spring flows.
-- Wang Wei, 699-759
3. The Unveiling 初度
pipa improvisation with live electronics
i. Algum 木 (0:00)
ii. Aerium 氣 (0:38)
iii. Crystallum 晶 (2:05)
iv. Eluvium 土 (7:15)
v. Metallum 金 (7:50)
Composed in SuperCollider, a real-time audio synthesis and algorithmic composition programming language, “The Unveiling” is a written for pipa improvisation and live processing. It is inspired by synesthesiac associations between the quality of sound and feel of different materials. The suite evokes a journey from wood (the body of the instrument) to air, crystal, earth and metal. It at the same time transitions from acoustic sounds to live-processed electronics. The performer mediates the dialog between computer and instrument by improvising to the electronic sounds at the moment. The decaying notes and enlarging auditory spaces connect the music between acoustic and synthetic worlds.
4. Yayun 雅韻
pipa and bronze bells
Commissioned by San Francisco Asian Art Museum for the special exhibition Music for the Afterlife in May, 2017, Yayun is a modern reinterpretation of an ancient art form yayue (雅樂, Chinese classical court music and dance) and its tuning system. It also incorporates non-traditional pipa techniques and sounds.
Bell samples recorded by Ian Saxton.
released March 3, 2019
All music composed, recorded, mixed, mastered and produced by Sophia Shen
Featuring: Shenshen Zhang in After the Rain Freshens the Empty Hills
Cover art by Grace Chen
Special Thanks to: Andrew Barinov, Stewart Slater, Lemon Guo, Gabby Wen